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With military siege of Gaza, ICRC says there's no adequate humanitarian response

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's war on Hamas has moved into southern Gaza, leaving civilians with few places to seek safety. The Israeli military once told civilians to flee southward while they attacked Hamas in the north. But they've always mounted some attacks in the southern part of that territory, and those attacks are intensifying. Our next guest is Mirjana Spoljaric. She was just there. She is president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and returned last night from a visit to Gaza. Welcome to the program.

MIRJANA SPOLJARIC: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What did you see and do?

SPOLJARIC: What I saw in Gaza is a shattering, devastating humanitarian situation. And the conditions are such that an adequate humanitarian response will not be possible if the situation persists as I found it yesterday and the day before.

INSKEEP: I'm curious about even the basics of a visit like this. Do you risk Israeli bombardment in going in? Did you have some assurance that wherever you were would not be attacked?

SPOLJARIC: We require mobility. We require constant adjustments with both sides to make sure that we can operate, that we can move safely. It is complex. It's very difficult. And our operating space is shrinking, so we have very limited mobility at the moment.

INSKEEP: I trust you have Red Cross personnel who are based in Gaza who are working there every day. What are they able to do?

SPOLJARIC: We have 130 personnel in Gaza. They are assisting hospitals. They are delivering medical assistance. We are bringing fuel to the hospitals so that they have electricity. We deliver water. We try to access as many people, and especially children, as much as we can.

INSKEEP: Are the remaining hospitals - those that have not been shut down entirely - are they functioning?

SPOLJARIC: There are very few remaining hospitals, and the surgical teams are working around the clock. But there is no surgical capacity in many parts of Gaza, so people have to move for long distances, and this is extremely dangerous given the heavy wounds that they are suffering.

INSKEEP: How much better, if at all, did conditions get because of the pause of several days, which seems to have allowed the movement of more humanitarian aid?

SPOLJARIC: This - the pause allowed for some humanitarian respite. There was an increase in material reaching Gaza. There was an improvement of operating space. But this is all gone now. It is extremely difficult for us to move, and it is extremely difficult for us to bring in new material, especially medicine, because our stocks will run out in a day or two, and we need to bring in more material.

INSKEEP: From time to time, you hear an allegation that humanitarian aid workers seem to have been targeted. This, of course, is a thing that Israel strongly denies. Can you just describe your workers' experiences? Have they been hit by gunfire or by bombs, and do they believe they are being targeted ever?

SPOLJARIC: We have lost two colleagues. We are just seeing that it is increasingly dangerous to move. We are not assuming that we are being targeted deliberately, but it is a very dangerous operating space for humanitarians because there are not - no sufficient security guarantees for us to move and to reach all parts of Gaza. And there are large parts of Gaza that we cannot reach regularly or at all.

INSKEEP: I'd like people to know, if they don't - one of the classic functions of the Red Cross is talking with prisoners - prisoners of war. And in this case, of course, there are still many hostages that Hamas seized in its attack on Israel back on October 7. Some have been released. Some remain. Have your workers been able to see them, visit them, get any information about their condition?

SPOLJARIC: The unconditional release of the hostages and us being able to access them is a top priority for the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have been working on this since Day 1. We are talking to Hamas and - at all levels. They know what the rights of the hostages are. They know that taking hostages is against international humanitarian law. But the release of hostages - and we've been able to facilitate the release of over 100 hostages so far - is a complex undertaking. It requires a lot of understanding and agreement from both sides so that we can move.

INSKEEP: Has Hamas allowed you to visit any of the hostages who remain?

SPOLJARIC: The visits, just as the release, require an agreement on both sides because we don't want to endanger the hostages. And this agreement has to be - you know, it has to come together so that we can access the hostages, inform the families, but also bring assistance that they need.

INSKEEP: OK. Mirjana Spoljaric of the International Committee of the Red Cross - thanks so much.

SPOLJARIC: I thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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